har nof jerusalem synagogue terrorist attack

Samuel Scott / www.samueljscott.com

JERUSALEM — I was outside of a building in a business complex in the Holy City yesterday, waiting to see someone who I had traveled from Tel Aviv to meet in the context of my work as the Senior Director of Digital Marketing for The Cline Group. As I stood on the sidewalk, I saw a young, Israeli-Arab man walk past in tattered jeans and with a large backpack and a pace that somehow did not seem normal. I watched him as he walked past, step by step, until he was out of my field of vision.

I was not proud of my suspicion, but it is an unfortunate result of the feelings that go through one’s head in the days following a terrorist attack.

On November 18, two Arab-Israeli residents of eastern Jerusalem entered a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood in the western part of this city with pistols, a meat cleaver, and an axe, and shot and hacked people — killing four and wounding six. Police arrived and shot the terrorists to death. One of the police officers, an Israeli Druze man, also died the following day after being shot in the crossfire. (See some eyewitness accounts.)

Traveling to Jerusalem

The meeting had been arranged in advance, so I could not cancel. But the feelings and occurrences yesterday saw my multiple identities — a former journalist versus a Jewish, American, and Israeli person — conflict with each other. Half of me wanted to go to document the effects of the event; the other half wanted to postpone the meeting somehow. Still, I went.

When I go to Jerusalem, I normally take what is called a “monit sherut” (literally, a “service taxi”) from the central bus station in Tel Aviv — essentially, it’s a shuttle van that is faster than a bus because it does not stop on the way (but it is a little more expensive). Most of the drivers on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem route are Israeli Arabs, and the passengers are a mix of Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, foreign students, and tourists. On the way to the central bus station, I asked my taxi driver for his opinion. “If I were you,” he said, “I’d take the bus.” (Because there would likely be no Arabs.)

I took the bus.

On the bus, however, I reverted to the behaviors that people in Jerusalem do when they board the bus. As I bought my ticket, I quickly scanned the passengers to see if anyone looked “suspicious” (though who knows what that even means). Whenever a new person boarded the bus, I took a quick look for the same reason. Once in a while, I’d take a look around. I have not done this since moving away from Jerusalem, but the recent surge in terrorist attacks in Jerusalem make one think differently.

Once I was in Jerusalem, I knew that people were expecting the “next shoe to drop” — either another attack by Israeli Arabs or a reprisal attack by Israeli Jews against Israeli Arabs. There is talk about whether a third intifada (the Arabic word usually translated as “uprising”) has started. Normally, I’d take city buses everywhere, but I took taxis instead. It’s obviously safer.

Here is a roundup of recent events following the attack:

  • An interfaith gathering in Jerusalem called for tolerance
  • Pundits debated whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is to blame or not to blame for the increasing attacks in Jerusalem
  • Synagogues in other countries are increasing security
  • Israel will relax gun laws to allow more people to carry personal weapons (objective note: pro-gun advocates in the United States and elsewhere will likely use this as political propaganda for their purposes)
  • Hamas will likely continue to inflame tensions in eastern Jerusalem — but the actions will also put the group at odds with the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has increased security checkpoints in eastern Jerusalem
  • According to analyses I’ve seen, the Israeli left is calling for a return to negotiations with the Palestinians to prevent more violence, and the Israeli right is using the incident as proof that the Palestinians will never truly accept the existence of Israel
  • An Israeli Arab bus driver was found hanged to death prior to the synagogue attack — but there is debate over whether it was suicide or murder
  • New elections may — or may not — be held in the coming months, with current polling showing a lot of support for the right-wing Jewish Home party

Instinctive Suspicion

While I was waiting outside of the building for my meeting, I was checking my smartphone for new e-mail and updates. I heard footsteps approaching behind me. I whirled around to see who was approaching — it was just a random person passing by on the street. But my mind also remembered a story from when I lived in Boston years ago. I was walking home at night from a Fourth of July outing when I heard footsteps approaching behind me. Before I knew it, a man grabbed me from behind, held a knife to my throat, and demanded my wallet and mobile phone. Thankfully, that’s where it ended.

However, I would not doubt that I may have raised a few suspicions among Jerusalemites. When I waited outside of the building for my meeting, I was a guy who stood outside of a major building for twenty minutes with a large backpack that was filled with my “portable office” — my laptop, A/C power cord, headset, and more — while having a beard that had more than a few days of growth. I was also wearing my “winter” (for Israel) coat because I had thought Jerusalem would be colder than it actually was that day. (It’s November, and the city of Jerusalem sits on a high hill.)

If I had seen me, I would have probably given me a second look. After all, the Israeli government has provided citizens with certain “behavioral profiles” that may be signs of suicide bombers. Among them: People wearing thick coats in warm weather and having large backpacks.

Paying My Respects

After my meeting, I traveled to the synagogue that had been the site of the brutal terrorist attack the day before. I had wanted to pay my respects. (See the photo at the top of this essay.) After the forensic crews had cleaned the site, the synagogue had reopened quickly because it’s Israeli policy to “return to normal” after an attack as soon as possible.

Still, there were still police, TV crews, and praying synagogue members outside. Here are a few additional photos:

har nof jerusalem synagogue terrorist attack 2

Samuel Scott / www.samueljscott.com

har nof jerusalem synagogue terrorist attack 3

Samuel Scott / www.samueljscott.com

In the United States, television news anchors usually end their broadcasts with something such as “Have a good (day or evening).” When there is a terrorist attack, the TV anchors here add, “Have a quiet (day or evening).” (The Hebrew is “Yom (Day) or Erev (Evening) Sheket.”) When I exited my taxi from Tel Aviv’s central bus station at my apartment after returning from Jerusalem in the evening, I wished the driver an erev sheket.

Samuel Scott is a for­mer Boston news­pa­per edi­tor who made aliyah in January 2008 and works as Senior Direc­tor of Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing for The Cline Group. His personal website is here. Fol­low him on Twit­ter, LinkedIn, Face­book, and Google+!